Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an advocate for direct democracy. This is the only form of government that Rousseau believed would give expression to humanity's innate freedom and autonomy that was enjoyed before the advent of civilization. Rousseau famously stated, "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains." Unlike Aristotle, who classed humans as political animals by nature, Rousseau believed that civilization was unnatural, an artificial construction formed by accident in the struggle for survival. In his view, humans were once independent and self-sufficient. They lived a nomadic lifestyle and interacted only to reproduce. But faced with nature's unforgiving wrath (floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes), humans learned that they were better able to survive through cooperation. Families began to form, and those families formed villages. Humans, now living together for the first time, began to take note of each other’s differences. Out of social interaction grew preferences for merit and beauty. “The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most skillful, or the most eloquent came to be the most highly regarded, and this was the first step at once toward inequality and vice,” said Rousseau. Out of these preferences grew a destructive and debasing self-love Rousseau called amour-propre. Still, this was a good time in human history, and people enjoyed a general equality and peace.
The real turning point in history for Rousseau was the introduction of agriculture and metallurgy. These innovations entrenched inequality and exploitation and introduced a political hierarchy that Rousseau believed denied humans basic freedoms. In order to heal the wounds left by this revolutionary transition, Rousseau advocated for a new social contract that would transcend the liberal property-based governments of his time and lead to an enhanced form of freedom unmatched in human history. Rousseau's social contract was grounded in his concept of the general will. The general will emerges when people start to think in terms of the common good as opposed to thinking in terms of their enlightened self-interest. Rousseau advocated for a new form of subjectivity in which people see their own well-being (and individuality) as linked to the well-being of the political community at large. In order for the general will to come into being, there must be direct, as opposed to representative, democracy, because for Rousseau the "moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no long free: it no longer exists" (The Social Contract, Book 3, Chapter 15). For Rousseau, the general will only emerges through full participation—one person equals one vote.